CPO Rating Criteria

The following criteria apply to reviews written or updated after August 11, 2011.

Review Scoring and Grades

Our grades indicate our opinion of the likelihood a business owner will have a positive or negative experience with a particular merchant account provider. This opinion is based on a variety of factors including current and past policies, contract terms, marketing tactics, customer service feedback, complaints and testimonials, and a general analysis of the ethical nature of the business model chosen by the leaders and owners of the company. Grades may also be influenced by how a provider has chosen to interact with this website.

General Grade Definitions

A – Very safe. Business owners are highly unlikely to encounter problems caused by the merchant account provider.
B – Mostly safe. The merchant account provider may have issues regarding provisions in its service agreement or the type of complaints filed by its current and former customers.
C – Average. The merchant account provider may have undesirable contract terms, ethical sales and marketing issues, or customer service issues.
D – Caution. The merchant account provider utilizes unethical contract provisions, disruptive, misleading or annoying marketing strategies, poorly trained sales representatives, or severely lacks in service and support quality. There may also numerous reports of undisclosed costly fees or difficulty with canceling service.
F – Avoid. One or all of the following: Highly unethical sales and marketing tactics, unethical and expensive contract provisions, numerous complaints indicating moderate to severe financial consequences for business owners, merchant account provider has acted aggressively towards us in attempt manipulate or suppress its review. Examples of aggressive acts may take towards this website include, but are not limited to, legal threats and demand letters intended to intimidate us, frivolous lawsuits intended to coerce with the threat of legal expense, illegitimate DMCA removal filings, and threats directed towards people who have left comments in a review on this website.

Can Processors Buy Good Ratings?

Absolutely not. We pride ourselves on being one of the only and truly unbiased resources for card processing services on the Internet. Unlike most other merchant account review websites, we do not sell ratings – period. We are not owned or controlled by any processing company and we do not show favoritism. If a well-rated provider deserves to have its rating lowered due to new information, increased complaints, or deteriorating service, we will adjust its rating without hesitation. Do not let poorly rated processors fool you into thinking that the only reason they have a poor rating in our review is that they did not pay us for a good rating. It is a lie and could be considered as defamation and slander against our brand. If you have received emails from a processor stating that CardPaymentOptions.com sells ratings, please contact us so that we may take appropriate action.

Rating and Review Philosophy

It’s important to understand that we are, first and foremost, a small business advocate. We view the current state of the credit card processing industry as generally unfavorable to small businesses. For many business owners accepting cards is not just another form of payment, but a necessary evil. Merchant account providers that operate in ways that are typical of the industry are considered as “average,” or a “C” rating, under our philosophy.  Providers that score above a “C” rating are those that rise above the status quo.

Our reviews primarily measure business owner satisfaction and merchant account provider policies regarding, fees, sales tactics, customer support, marketing, and cancellation of service. We focus on these areas because they often have the greatest impact on a business owner’s overall experience with a merchant account provider. Due to the complex nature of the credit card processing industry, we understand that most providers will have a few complaints even if they operate ethically and have merchant-friendly policies. For this reason, we are most interested in the context of complaints and uncovering any patterns in the type of complaints. Our goal is to help business owners determine the relative safety of entering into business with a particular merchant account provider.

Complaints Ratios

It is our belief that most business owners do not file public complaints when they have a legitimate issue with a merchant account provider; therefore, if one business owner takes the time to report a problem, there are probably others who have had the same issue. The more complaints that exist about a particular issue with a merchant account provider, the more likely that others are having the same problem. We see this likelihood as an exponential curve wherein as public complaints increase, the factor of others silently experiencing the same problems increases at an ever greater rate. For example, we believe that it is safe to assume that if there is only one complaint filed about a particular issue then it may just be an isolated incident. But, if there are 10 complaints about the same issue, we believe that it is safe to assume that at least 100 other business owners have had the same problem. Continuing on this curve, we believe if there are 100 complaints about the same issue, we feel that is it safe to assume the possibility that 10,000 other merchants have silently experienced the same problem. This philosophy correlates to the likelihood that new customers of a merchant account provider would experience the same problems. These calculations are only theoretical but we believe the philosophy to be logically sound.

Review Types

We have two review types; The first is what we call a “Preliminary Review” which covers basic research of merchant satisfaction and provides factual details about a provider.  This type of review allows us to measure merchant satisfaction for a period of time before we assign a rating. Preliminary Reviews may be unrated, rated or updated into a “Full Review.”

A Full Review covers in greater detail a provider’s policies, marketing tactics, and the level of merchant satisfaction. This type of review is divided into sections that cover the business practices of a provider.  The sections are then graded on a scale from “A” to “F” based on the evidence collected during the research process. A final “overall” rating is given based on how the provider scored in each of the sections.

Review Sections

Below are the descriptions of each review section.

Sales Tactics & Marketing Strategy

We look closely at how the merchant account provider markets its services because many complaints can be traced back to a provider’s sales tactics and marketing strategy. High ratings are earned by companies that utilize well trained, W-2 employed sales forces that have transparent sales processes that include full fee and contract provision disclosure prior to setting up accounts. Low ratings are earned by companies that use misleading sales tactics, deceptive advertising, annoying marketing, misleading rate quotes, and rely too heavily on recruiting poorly trained independent sales agents who are intentionally focused on setting up expensive accounts in exchange for high commissions; a type of provider commonly known within the industry as an “agent hiring mill.”

Fees, Costs & Contract Terms

Since most merchant account providers set their own contract terms and pricing, high ratings are earned by providers that offer competitive rates and fees, and short-term service agreements. The highest ratings are reserved for providers that market month-to-month agreements as a standard policy, have no fees or arbitrary time constraints for canceling service, and actively market interchange-plus pricing. Low ratings are earned by processors that intentionally bury important details in fine print, impose high rates and fees, require long-term service agreements and/or equipment leases, penalize service cancellation with early termination fees, and/or have automatically renewing contracts.

Complaints & Service

Complaint and service quality information is largely gathered and analyzed by researching customer reviews on various websites and forums. We determine a rating based upon the estimated size of the merchant account provider, its time in business, number complaints filed, and the content of the reviews. We also look for themes in the type of reviews to determine if a provider is suffering or excelling in any particular area. High ratings are reserved for providers that have few to no complaints or a high volume legitimate and verifiable praise. Low ratings are assigned to providers that have numerous complaints, reports indicating unfavorable or unethical business practices, and/or reports of poor customer services and dispute resolution experiences.

Better Business Bureau Rating

We take into account a company’s BBB rating only to help establish a level of credibility, or lack thereof, in a merchant account provider. In our opinion (which is shared by many), the BBB rating system is flawed when it comes to the credit card processing industry. For instance, there are numerous examples of providers receiving “A+” ratings despite having hundreds of complaints filed. The BBB often justifies these high ratings by stating that a company has promised to make good faith efforts to resolve complaints. We do not a agree with this policy and believe that high ratings should be reserved for companies that prevent complaints instead of reacting to them. Evidence has also surfaced that BBB ratings have been manipulated by paying the BBB’s enrollment fees (ABC Investigative Report of the BBB).  Although the BBB claims that it has eliminated its “pay to play” policy, we regularly see “accredited” providers with inflated grades.

The BBB does not look outside of its own system and primarily scores providers based upon how many internal complaints have been filed versus how many have been resolved.  Processors often score an “A+” with the BBB even though they have numerous complaints and dismal ratings elsewhere. It is our belief that when a provider has a high volume of BBB complaints, but a high rating, merchants were unable to get their problems resolved directly with the company itself and so sought outside assistance. This is often an indication that a provider has a poor dispute resolution process and only acts when its BBB rating is at stake. Therefore, a high BBB rating should not be considered as a definitive indicator of a high-quality merchant account provider. However, a low BBB rating is usually a clear signal indicating that a provider has a dysfunctional customer service program.

To combat the problem of artificially inflated BBB ratings, we assign our own “adjusted BBB rating” based on how the section would score under our own criteria. We take into account factors such as complaint volume, type of complaints, resolution ratio, estimated market share, company age, and BBB profile age. The adjusted rating is used in our “Overall Rating” calculation.